tv NBC Nightly News NBC May 2, 2010 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT
bomb square in the heart of times square. an attempted terrorist attack that could have been deadly. who did this and why? also, here in the gulf, the scope of this oil disaster grows even bigger tonight. the president calls it a massive and potentially unprecedented disaster. just how far will it spread and when will somebody find a way to make it stop? captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening, everyone. from venice, louisiana, where we are in the middle of a pretty good downpour.
and as we come on the air tonight, there are two big stories with fast-moving developments. here in the gulf, that massive oil spill just keeps growing. nobody seems to have a real handle on exactly how much oil is spewing into the sea or how to stop it and the weather today certainly hasn't made the containment and clean up any easier. president obama came through here today. he got his first look, calling it a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster. the other big story in new york city, where tonight world-famous times square is returning to normal, but it has been a tense 24 hours after police found a crude, but potentially deadly bomb in an suv last night. we have nbc news teams on both fronts. we want to begin with what's being called a terror threat in the heart of times square. nbc justice correspondent pete williams is at the department of homeland security with the latest on the investigation. pete, good evening. >> reporter: lester, police consider this a very promising investigation tonight. they have a wealth of forensic evidence, they have surveillance camera video, they have witness
tips. they believe they have a good chance of discovering who was behind this attempted act of terrorism. investigators are crawling all over this suv, a 1993 nissan pathfinder, filled with evidence they hope will lead to whoever's responsible for a bomb scare that closed off one of the nation's most popular tourist areas for nearly ten hours. >> we are very lucky. thanks to alert new yorkers and professional police officers, we avoided what could have been a very deadly event. >> reporter: duane jackson is one of those alert citizens, repeatedly thanked today for his vigilance. at about 6:30 last night, he noticed the suv parked illegally, motor running, keys still in the ignition, emergency flashers on in crowded times square with hotels, restaurants, broadway theaters and thousands of people all around. he alerted police that smoke was coming from the car. >> and then you heard a little pop, pop sound, almost like firecrackers popping or
something like that and you could see the dark smoke, you could see the red flashes, and you could smell the gun powder. >> reporter: a robot broke a window and helped bomb squad members take the device apart and declare it safe. police say it consisted of two five-gallon canisters of gasoline on the floor of the rear seat with a 16-ounce can of firecrackers between them. the fireworks were apparently intended to ignite a fire to be fueled by the gasoline that would cause three propane tanks in the back of the suv to explode. all of that, police say, was to be controlled by two clocks, one of them set for midnight. though some of the fireworks did go off, some officials familiar with the bomb design say they doubt it would have worked, even if all had gone off. if the device had worked, officials say, it would have caused a large fireball. british police conducted this test four years ago to see what would happen if a propane tank exploded. times square is dotted with hundreds of surveillance cameras and police say at least one may have picked up the would-be
bomber, a white male in his 40s, seen walking away. >> he also was seen shredding a dark-colored shirt, revealing a red one underneath. he put the darker one into a bag that he was carrying. this happened about a half block from where the vehicle was parked. >> reporter: today, a taliban group in pakistan claimed responsibility, but experts say it has a history of exaggeration. >> the pakistani taliban has on a number of occasions claimed credit for acts, which clearly they had no link to whatsoever. it's not even possible. so their credibility is not the greatest. >> reporter: investigators used the suv's vehicle identification number to trace down the owner, someone they have yet to interview, and the police say that a tourist who was in times square last night may have actually photographed the driver of the suv on home video. lester? >> and pete, it looks like whoever did this certainly had the intent to harm. what are officials saying about
the potential, this could have erupted as a true bomb? >> reporter: well, they're saying they're not sure, but the problem with it is, apparently the success of this device depended on this car catching fire and the fire then causing these propane tanks to explode. but the people i've talked to say that fire would have had to burn a long time before the tanks got hot enough and it's just not likely the fire department would have left a burning car in times square for more than a few minutes, lester. >> pete williams tonight in washington. pete, thank you. now two times square, where jonathan dienst of our new york city station wnbc has been out all night covering this story. jonathan, the fact is, no matter how crudely designed, somebody drove into the middle of times square with a bomb. describe what it was like to be there last night? >> reporter: well, the response here was extraordinary by the nypd. first, what appeared to be a precautionary measure and a couple of blocks being evacuated. once the bomb squad got in there and got a close look at this vehicle, saw those canisters and those propane tanks, they began
pushing the perimeter back and quite a bit. so much so that times square, with thousands and thousands of people packed with the broadway shows and restaurants became a ghost town as they began to try to secure this area to make sure that this vehicle did not explode. they were literally clearing out some hotels here to make sure that if something had exploded, that the glass didn't shatter and people weren't injured or perhaps even worse. so it was quite a concern, quite a scare for several hours, as police conducted this investigation. >> and jonathan, i think people have accepted the fact that new york essentially remains under terror threat. the city has a sophisticated anti-terror apparatus, but this has to be the nypd's worst nightmare. >> reporter: the possible home-grown terrorist or the lone actor, very difficult to defend against. times square has an extraordinary police presence. those heavily armed hercules units are here all the time, as are a police substation and horse units, mounted units here
in times square. so the police presence is extraordinary, and yet, still, somehow somebody was able to drive a car here, packed with what appears to be explosives. it's a very tough thing to stop and police continue to try to track who did this. >> jonathan dienst from wnbc, jonathan, we appreciate you being with us tonight. thank you. and we want to turn now to what one obama administration official today said the grave situation here along the gulf of mexico. the president saw it for himself today for the first time. the oil slick is now 30 miles long, and as it spreads, it threatens not only the coast of louisiana, but also the coast of mississippi and florida. we begin our coverage of this disaster with nbc's mark potter in port sulfur. mark, good evening. >> reporter: good evening to you, lester. president obama came to louisiana to see for himself the efforts to clean up the oil spill and also to underscore the administration's resolve to tackle that shaissue.
he also saw personally some of the problems here caused by mother nature. his motorcade driving through the bad weather, which has hampered cleanup efforts, president obama made his way to the u.s. coast guard base, which is coordinating those efforts. >> the booms are here? >> reporter: later, speaking in the rain, he said firmly who's to blame and who will pay. >> so let me be clear. bp is responsible for this leak. bp will be paying the bill. but as president of the united states, i'm going to spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues. and we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damages cost. >> reporter: a few hours before, hundreds of louisiana fishermen facing the loss of their jobs because of the spill stood in line for oil cleanup jobs with bp, the company responsible for the disaster. >> i don't want to, but we have no choice. you either go to work for them or starve. >> reporter: the anger is
building here. fishermen want more than just words from the obama administration. >> we need them to put us to work. i don't care if the president comes or not. he ain't going to pull no oil boom. i will. >> reporter: today, more bad news for fishermen. u.s. officials announce they are closing federal fishing waters from the mouth of the mississippi river to pensacola, florida, for at least ten days. louisiana announced its own fishing ban yesterday. >> the oil is coming on to our coast threatens more than just our wildlife, our fisheries, our coast. this oil literally threatens our way of life. >> reporter: on "meet the press," interior secretary ken salazar said it could take months to seal the damaged oil pipe. >> you're looking at potentially 90 days before you ultimately get to what is the ultimate solution here, and that's a relief well. >> reporter: on abc's "this week," bp chairman lamar mckay said he's not sure how long it will take to cap the well, but says his company is doing everything it can. >> and as you can imagine, this is like doing open heart surgery
at 5,000 feet with -- in the dark with robot-controlled submarines. >> reporter: mckay blamed the explosion and oil spill on equipment failure. now, with the winds predicted to shift later this week, mississippi, alabama, and florida are also bracing for the same threats facing the people and the wildlife in this state. lester? >> mark potter tonight, thank you. john harwood is cnbc's chief washington correspondent. john, if only from a pr standpoint, did this trip come a bit later than it should have? >> you could make that argument, lester. administration officials say they waited until officials on site wanted them to come on, come down and were mobilizing resources all the while. and interestingly, republicans are not hitting the president as hard on this as we've become accustomed to. in part because they know this is a results-oriented business. if they can contain the damage, the political damage will be contained. but if this is a huge problem that continues as ken salazar said, for months, this is going to be a headache for this administration for a long time.
>> john harwood, thank you. and as we noted at the top of the broadcast and you can probably see behind me, a day of violent weather here capping off an afternoon in which there were ten-foot waves out in the gulf, 30-mile-per-hour winds. all this, all but stalling containment operations out at sea today. we headed out on the water to find out what those crews are up against and to find out how close the oil now is to land. making our way into the mighty mississippi, we passed huge skimmer ships designed to clean up the oil. instead, sitting at anchor, waiting out the weather. the wind working against cleanup crews even as it drives the oil slick toward land. where and when it comes ashore keeps charter boat operators like james peters on edge. >> it's very emotional for us. could be, you know, the biggest tragedy for this area, you know, i mean, oil could just demo our coastline. >> reporter: we're getting a small taste of what it's like out at the site itself, where
sea swells are at least ten feet. we're still on the mississippi river and getting hammered in rough seas and a lot of the vessels that would be involved in the clean up simply can't operate in these kind of conditions. the coast guard says none of its ships ventured out to the spill area today and over flights were canceled as well because of the weather. today on our way downriver to inspect the gulf shore, we ultimately found patches of smoother sailing and came upon some of the 375,000 feet of containment booms that are still yet to be deployed. more than 200,000 feet are already out. finally, we found a place to come ashore. we've traveled about as far as we can safely go in a small boat because of the state of the seas out there. we're at the mississippi river mouth, where it meets the gulf of mexico on the west side of the river here. fortunately, we've seen no signs of oil. many of louisiana's barrier stretches like this were wiped away by hurricane katrina. the tall cane in many places is
the only thing keeping the beach from washing away. now the thought of oil damaging what's left unnerves people like james peters, who not only make a living here, but also call the gulf coast home. >> this is basically the only line of defense we have, you know, before erosion gets to us. this cane here, for example, is what holds the soil together. so this is it. >> those strong winds are expected to subside by tomorrow evening, at least in this area, and many of the ships are in staging positions, ready to resume work as soon as there is a break in the weather. there's more ahead on "nightly news" tonight. when we continue, the ripple effect of what is happening here in the gulf tonight. how the rest of the nation may feel the impact and soon. up next, swept away. cars, trucks, have been buildings caught up in deadly floods that are setting records tonight. and later, the president loosens up and brings down the house. you're smiling. and when they're laughing... you're laughing. be kind to your eyes... with transitions lenses.
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if avodart is right for you. we have some fascinating video captured on a traffic camera, showing just how severe the weather is in parts of the southeast tonight. this is the antioch neighborhood of nashville, tennessee, where massive flooding shut down parts of the interstate, interstate 24, overnight. you can see cars and trucks and even a portable schoolhouse. there it is behind the trucks, floating down the highway at one point. the schoolhouse literally falls apart in the water. at least seven people have been killed by the floods in tennessee this week and another three died when severe storms blew through northern
mississippi early in the morning. and the damage is not over yet. the weather channel's jim cantore joins us now from nashville. jim? >> reporter: hey, lester. we're at that same creek, this is mill creek you can see behind me. and when it's raging like this, there's very, very little room for error. and unfortunately, people trapped on the roads yesterday did lose their lives because of this and it continues to be a problem today. we had 7 inches of rain today in nashville, tennessee. that is a single day record. two-day total record in nashville was almost 7 inches. we have shattered that almost by twofold. thank goodness no one was in that car there. pictures again in and around south central kentucky, all across middle tennessee and down into western tennessee, are very, very similar. we have hundreds of roads closed. hundreds of people are displaced from their homes and search and rescue efforts are continuing tonight. the big question is, when will this rain end? as we take a look at the radar, you can still see we have plenty of showers all the way down through mississippi and alabama. those are still to come here in
nashville tonight. but the steady pounding, 1 to 2-inch per-hour rains have ended for now and hopefully an end to mother nature's antics. two weekends, two disasters, both of them deadly. lester, back to you. >> jim cantore in nashville, jim, thanks. the weather didn't kill the thrill of victory at the kentucky derby. foul weather made a muddy mess of the track, but then there was a break in the clouds and super saver, the horse, had his day in the sun. and in the winner's circle, along with jockey calvin borel who rode the winner for the third time in four years. when we come back, how the disaster here in the gulf of mexico is hitting home across the country at your dinner table. desperate for nighttime heartburn relief? for many, nexium helps relieve heartburn symptoms caused by acid reflux disease. . . are possible side effects of nexium. other serious stomach conditions may still exist.
in four states. this is devastating news for the people who make their living in the fishing industry. and it can also have a noticeable impact on the american dinner table and restaurant menu. here's nbc's chief environmental correspondent, anne thompson. >> reporter: this is something eric melrhine never thought would happen on his boat. tossing back blue crabs that his family has fished for four generations. >> does he stay in louisiana? >> no, he doesn't. that crab right there, we were selling today. tomorrow, he'd be on a plate in baltimore. >> reporter: this is the start of the ripple effect of this disaster. in baltimore, wholesalers see the impact of fewer louisiana oysters, crawfish, crabs and shrimp. >> we're already hearing that shrimp have gone up a couple dollars a pound on our end, so it's probably going to be a substantial jump. >> reporter: the bounty from louisiana's waters produces nearly one-third of the seafood america eats. at the moment, almost a quarter of the state's fishing areas are closed. they are east of the mississippi and in the path of the spreading
slick. those west of the river are still open and they yield the vast majority of the seafood. safe for now, but could be impacted if the winds and tide shift. federal officials are testing water and seafood for contamination, though today it closed fishing in federal waters throughout the spill area, the government insists what's commercially available now should not pose any health risks. >> while we can eat them, we will. who knows when we'll get them again. >> reporter: louisiana law requires seafood distributors to trace the origins of the fish. that says the manager of galatore's in new orleans should give customers confidence. >> we know who the fishermen was, if we really want all that information. >> reporter: the information crabber eric melrhine wants to
know is much harder to get. you and i may pay a few more dollars for the shrimp and crab and oyster that we love, but these fishermen could pay with their jobs, their homes, and their culture, lester. >> you know, anne, you and i hear the same thing talking to these fishermen. the frustration is, nobody can tell them anything, how long this is going to go, how long. in the long-term, what are they talking about doing? >> some of them are talking about going to work for bp and laying booms out there, but others say, that's like working for the enemy. a lot of these fishermen live hand to mouth and what they want to know, if they can't fish, then who's going to help them hold on to their homes, and as they say, it's part of their culture. it's their way of life. they've got saltwater running through their veins. >> anne thompson, thanks very much. a quick business headline tonight. units airlines is expected to announce tomorrow morning it will acquire continental airlines. if the deal goes through, it will create the largest airline in the world. up next here, some presidential one-liners that brought the house down. you get e
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4 times fewer pills than extra strength tylenol. just two aleve have rength to last all day. get the all day pain relief of aleve. also in liquid-gels. finally tonight, before making his trip down here to the gulf earlier today, the president delivered some of his best one-liners last might to a room full of washington insiders
and hollywood celebrities. nbc's peter alexander has highlights from the annual white house correspondents dinner. >> it's the glitziest of washington's galas, d.c.'s premiere evening event where politicians and journalists intersect with pop stars and celebrities. with the president as comedian in chief. >> i wasn't sure that i should actually come tonight. biden talked me into it. he leaned over and he said, mr. president, this is no ordinary dinner, this is a big [ bleep ] meal. the jones brothers are here. sasha and maria are huge fans. but, boys, don't get any ideas. i have two words for you, predator drones. you will never see it coming.
you think i'm joking. i am glad that the only person whose ratings fell more than mine last year is here tonight. great to see you, jay! i'm also glad that i'm speaking first, because we've all seen what happens when somebody takes the time slot after leno's. >> the night's featured comment, "tonight show" host, jay leno. the so-called oscars on the potomac, once again bringing a dose of glamour and laughs to the nation's capital. for "today," peter alexander, nbc news, washington. and that's n"nbc nightly news" for this sunday. brian williams will be here tomorrow, reporting live from the gulf coast. we know a lot of you are wondering if you can do anything to help in this disaster. we have posted some resources on our website,